Post-ComicsPRO Thoughts Part 1 - The Great Bob Wayne
I’m back in town after the ComicsPRO meeting in Charlotte, and it was a whirlwind few days. I have more thoughts on the details and happenings that I’ll be sharing later on, but first I wanted to talk about something a bit more personal about this meeting. Namely, my absolute lack of skill to take selfies.
Ok that’s not REALLY what I wanted to talk about, even though I do have no skill at taking decent selfies.
Bob Wayne gave the keynote speech this year at ComicsPRO, an excerpt of which can be found over at the ComicsPROgress blog. The entire speech should be up by the end of the week. For those who don’t know, Bob is one of the biggest figures in the business of comics throughout its history. He started as a fan (which he talks about in the speech, it’s a fun story if you get a chance to read it), became a retailer, and eventually spent almost three decades as the senior VP of sales at DC Comics. Over that span, he was one of the most important and influential people in the comic business. It is arguable that we would not have comics stores without his presence at DC, especially during the 90’s.
My first time “meeting” Bob was way back in 1991 when I had my first store and I went to a retailer meeting hosted by Capital City Distribution in Madison, Wisconsin. It was a crazy time in comics, the comic book speculation bubble was starting to inflate, and almost anyone could get into the business and make some money. I mean, I was a 17 year old kid who had no idea what I was doing and I was traveling to “business conferences” for comics! These shows, though, were more like slightly exclusive conventions than they were real business conferences. There’s not a lot of details I could tell you about them other than the general madhouse nature of the whole thing, but one detail always stuck with me, and that was Bob Wayne. He has a public speaking style and acerbic wit that few can replicate. I would see Bob again in 1992 when the conference moved to Milwaukee and he showed off the first episode of the Batman Animated Series in its entirety to the crowd several months before the premiere that fall. (That’s a thing we’ll probably never see again. Back then not everyone was carrying HD cameras in their pockets so it was a great way to build buzz.)
Fast forward to 2005, when I am just a couple years into launching More Fun Comics and Games and am lucky enough to attend a DC Retailer Representative meeting in Quebec. At that point, I hadn’t really recalled seeing Bob before, but the moment he got up and started speaking, I thought to myself “I know that voice!” Since then, I’ve seen Bob at countless retailer gatherings, including this past week at ComicsPRO, where I did such a terrible job of picture taking. Over the years I’ve talked with Bob at many events. For a long time I was convinced he hated me. Fortunately, I’m confident that isn’t the case now. The dryness in his conversations I think came from the fact that he frequently encountered people who thought they had the greatest idea ever, but they didn’t realize Bob had encountered the problem they were trying to solve many years before the conversation and addressed it, and he just didn’t have time to go into detail with every person every time. Youthful idealism crashed on the rocks of Bob’s experience and wisdom many times over the years - and that was just in my conversations with him! That said, I always admired his insight and willingness to listen.
Seeing Bob this time felt different, though. Bob retired from running the day to day of DC back in 2014. The last couple times I’ve seen him have been much more relaxed and silly without the need to discuss business. Yet, when he got up to speak at ComicsPRO, it was like walking into a time machine of sorts. The wit, the candor, the insight all came pouring out again. I was simultaneously that 17 year old kid in Madison and the 43 year old who is entering year 16 of running my current operation while also helping shepherd the industry into the future with my work at ComicsPRO.
I teared up a bit. I realized that this giant of the business was someone who also sees me at these events and knows who I am, and that was an overwhelming feeling. The comic business is a large thing, but it is, at its heart, built on people and their spirit and their relationships. From day one the direct market of stores was a group of people who were crazy enough and confident enough to put their livelihoods on the line to put these fantastical stories in the hands of other people. Bob is one of the key figures in making that a reality, and, in spite of my youth, he always has time to chat for a little bit at events. It’s not every day you can become friends with your heroes, but in this case, I’m lucky enough to say that is the case. Fortunately, Bob agreed with me when I tried to explain to him why I wanted to get a selfie with him at the meeting. “I know the feeling you’re talking about”, he said. “I’ve had it happen a few times myself over the years.”
Bob Wayne is one of the finest people to ever work in the comic business, and I’m thrilled that I have gotten to be on this ride at the same time as him, and also get to spend time getting to know him as a person. I look forward to seeing him again in the future, and in the mean time, continue to work hard building on the foundation that he played a huge role in putting into place.
Thanks Bob, you’re the best.